I love the ease of a casserole for a Sunday night dinner… It allows me to spend some time getting ready for the week ahead while it bubbles away in the oven with little care or worry. This particular casserole is warming, filling and delicious. It also happens to make excellent leftovers for lunches throughout the week. This isn't reserved for the weekends… I sometimes make it through the week and it's an easy crowd pleaser at my house. Nothing fancy, but very satisfying which is sometimes all you need after a long day at the office.
One important note about mozzarella cheese. If you're using the real stuff, which I've suggested here, then it's very wet. If you don't drain it properly, you run the risk of having a rather soupy dish. You'll want to open the packet and drain the water, then slice the mozzarella as thinly as possible. It doesn't need to be pretty at all - it will all melt in the end. Place the sliced mozzarella on a plate with paper towels to drain further. Before using it, blot the tops with paper towels and anywhere else that's particularly moist to get rid of as much of the moisture as possible.
150g pancetta cubes
Splash of Vermouth or white wine
2 cans of cream of chicken soup
150g frozen peas
500g mozzarella cheese balls, sliced and drained
2 tablespoons garlic oil
1/2 teaspoon dried chili flakes
1 cup panko bread crumbs
1. In a large pot, cook the pasta in salted water with a tablespoon of regular olive oil until it is very al dente. Generally the pasta I buy suggests cooking for 10 minutes, but for this dish I only cook it for about 7 or 8 minutes before draining. It will soften further in the oven, so you want it harder than usual so it's not mushy when you serve it.
2. Preheat the oven to 180°C.
4. Heat the garlic oil in a large flame-proof casserole with a lid. Cook the pancetta until it's bronzed and starting to get a little crispy. Stir in the dried chili flakes for about 20 seconds and then splash in the Vermouth or white wine. You want just enough to bubble up and deglaze the pan. Let it bubble away for a minute or so.
5. Add the peas and stir them around until they lose their frozen look. Then cover them with water, turn up the heat to high and boil the mixture until it reduces and thickens.
6. When the water has all boiled off the peas & pancetta, pour in the soup and stir. Then add half of the mozzarella and the cooked, drained pasta and stir until combined.
7. Remove from the heat and layer the remaining mozzarella on top. Cover and bake in the oven for about 45 minutes.
8. Remove the cover, sprinkle the panko bread crumbs across the top and bake for an additional 15 to 20 minutes or until crisp on top and bubbly. Serve hot on warmed plates.